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mediocre... on the verge of bad
The lead lacks the gravitas to pull off the superman role.
The plot is incomprehensible, as are the characters' motivations.
The female lead, in particular, has literally nothing to do. Why is she in this movie? Oh, right, to humanize the lead, then to act as tepid love interest, and finally to be captured by the bad guys so the hero can rescue her. She's not an actual person, she's a walking plot contrivance.
Most disappointing, though: the action scenes are unrealistic and stylized-- which is perfectly fine, as a kung fu fan I actually prefer ridiculous fight choreography-- but it's not quite over-the-top enough to be really stand-out as anything special or memorable.
Ghost World (2001)
I just saw Ghost World for the first time last night...
...so these are my first impressions.
It's a beautiful film, but heartbreakingly bittersweet. It's a comedy with teens, not a teen comedy. There's no nudity and, with one exception, there are no "oh-so-zany" characters who exist only as way to get cheap laughs.
It's about two best friends, Enid and Rebecca, who have just graduated high school and are cast adrift into adulthood with little (Rebecca) or no (Enid) ambition. Steve Buscemi plays Seymour, an obsessive collector and social outcast who Enid first meets through a cruel prank, but who she eventually comes to see as a kindred spirit. "He's the exact opposite of everything I really hate. In a way, he's such a clueless dork, he's almost kind of cool."
There's so much heart here in the characters that when the last third of the turns melancholic it's like a punch to the gut, but it avoids being melodramatic.
In his 4 star review Roger Ebert said, "I wanted to hug this movie," and I couldn't agree more.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Bizarre and Unsettling
Though the acting by the lead is wooden, the main character is an unlikable ass, and and the plot is absurd, this is one of those films where a number of extraordinarily memorable scenes and great photography make up for the weakness of the whole, more or less.
Obviously, the opening and closing scenes stick out, but the one that will forever stay with me is the torture/murder of the hitchhiker near the beginning. The violence in this scene is completely implied - you see only her bare feet dangling over the floor while she cries out in pain, then you see the thugs talking and one of them is holding a pair of pliers - yet it's extremely brutal.
It's a standout genre picture with an interesting, albeit pitch black, theme, but those who expect a Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe type detective noir will probably be disappointed.
The score, the post-transformation kiss, the ending. I've seen Vertigo six times now and it still thrills me.
James Stewart is just plain brilliant as Scotty. He starts off as a light-hearted, good natured guy and becomes very manipulative, very single-minded, very scary, very un-Stewart-like. And yet, even as he's leading the woman he thought he was in love with up the stairs in an emotionally manic frenzy, Scotty's still a completely sympathetic character. He's manhandling Judy, screaming at her, and at that moment you can really *feel* that his heart has been ripped from chest. You don't want Judy to come to harm, but you can't begrudge Scotty his rage either. Whatever happens, you know there can be no happy ending. And as Scotty stands in the bell tower looking down at his lover's corpse for the second time, you and he are utterly crushed. Now *that's* cinema.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Darker than Heston's hair dye
Hank Quinlan is one of the most intimidating characters in film. A slob, a drunk, a fat lumbering oaf of a man, he manages from his first introduction to exude more than a "touch" of evil. Without Welles in that role I'm not sure the movie could have been elevated above its laughably inauthentic lead and generic doper villains.
And it seemed obvious to me that Welles didn't expect the audience to be convinced by Heston's phony ethnicity in the first place. It's referenced jokingly in the first 15 minutes of the movie twice by Quinlan when he says (paraphrasing) "You don't sound like a Mexican" at the scene of the flaming car, and "She doesn't look Mexican either" in reaction to seeing Susan for the first time. Welles is basically saying look, we all know Vargas is played by a gringo, so let's get the laughs about it out of the way and then accept it for the sake of the story.
The black & white photography was beautiful. The scene with Susan, Grandhi, and Quinlan in the hotel room with the flashing neon light providing slow, intermittent illumination was way more memorable for me than the famous long take at the beginning.
It's just a shame the movie as a whole isn't more unified, no doubt due to the editing and re-shooting done by the studio without Welles' consent or involvement. Still, the picture taken as a whole just works as a darker than dark suspense film thanks to the knock out acting and direction by Welles.
Shi mian mai fu (2004)
A feast for the eyes more than makes up for the uneven pacing...
My only complaint is that shot after shot of horseback riding and more overly long closeups of tender embraces than you can shake a Chinese straight sword at slows the film to a crawl every 15 minutes or so. Pacing aside, this is probably the most visually pleasing films I've ever seen. The non-stop kaleidoscope of bright and vibrant colors is like an acid flashback on film. The final fight scene alone is worth the price of admission.
If you're just in it for the fight scenes then you'll probably be underwhelmed. The choreography is passable, but falls squarely into the fantasy category with daggers that twist and turn before reaching their target and an endless rain of bamboo spears. The movie is not really about the fighting, though, and if you have any sense of aesthetic appreciation in you at all then all will be forgiven once you see our heroes emerge from a forest to into the most picturesque sun covered field of wild flowers.
Pretentious, overblown, sometimes silly, and utterly relevant...
Everything the detractors say is true. Brazil is bloated and at times seems unnecessarily complex. Gilliam pushes self-indulgence to the limit. Why is this a bad thing, though? Other directors, such as the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and Brian De Palma, are endlessly praised for these excesses.
What really strikes me about Brazil, though, is the relevance of it all. What once was a seemingly far-fetched dystopic future now has become real. Fear of terrorism has brought innumerable surveillance cameras monitoring our every move, Echelon monitoring global communications, renditions to prison camps for coercive interrogation, etc. We're living in the world of Brazil. Our lives are shaped by the whims of clueless incompetents like Kurtzmann and Helpmann, and if you make the wrong move - or perhaps become the hapless victim of a clerical error - you too could be facing the fate of Sam Lowry or Archibald Buttle.
"I take no pleasure in taking life..."
"...if it's from a person who doesn't care about it."
What really stands out for me (aside from the really excellent direction of the action sequences) is the too-brilliant for its own good script. Oldman,Reno, and Portman deliver lines that would seem goofy if spoken by lesser performers. Oldman especially chews the scenery in a way that's both amusing and utterly menacing. I wonder if his Beethoven obsession is a nod to the ultra-violent Alex from A Clockwork Orange?
The American version ("The Professional") was the first version I saw. I'd originally had no real intention of seeing it because I'd read a pretty savage review of it likening it to child pornography. Clearly this particular reviewer had his head firmly planted in his rear. I'm surprised he could find room what with that tremendous stick in the way. Anyway, once I finally saw "Leon" for myself - thanks to my cinemaphile grandfather - I observed no such thing. This wasn't smut, it was love. Leon has no interest in Matilda sexually, but loves her as a father would love a daughter.
If you have a choice then go for the longer director's cut. You get about 15 minutes more film - and not just filler. These are scenes that truly expand upon the story.
My only complaints are about the almost complete under use of the completely underrated Danny Aiello, and Oldman's single dimensional evilness.
Very Highly Overrated
As I post this comment, IMDb currently rates Alfred Hitchcock's subpar Saboteur a 7.3/10. Personally, I rated it less than half that. Honestly, I can't tell how a movie this bad could've come from what is probably the most consistently good director I know of. I've seen about 10 other Hitch movies from the 30's-60's. Vertigo is thus far my hands down favorite while Saboteur is easily the worst. It's hard to believe that 7 years earlier Hitch used the very same formula in The 39 Steps far more competently. My recommendation would be to see that instead and avoid this like the plague. It's the only Hitchcock movie that I turned off before before the end and have no desire to go back and see the rest. If you must watch it, then rent or borrow. Don't make the mistake I did and buy the DVD on good faith earned through Notorious, Rebecca, Vertigo, Rear Window, etc. Even a master screws up sometimes, I guess.
EDIT: Maybe I was a bit harder on this film than I should've been. It's certainly nowhere near Ed Wood or Manos or anything like that, but there's three reasons I feel I must rate it so low:
1) The name "Hitchcock" brings with it certain expectations of quality. This film delivers on a few of them, but they're way overshadowed by the darn near non-sensical plotting.
2) I want to compensate a bit for all the 8+ ratings this film is getting. Hitchcock is like the John Coltrane of directors. True fans will find reasons to consider anything by him a work of art, but the high rating on IMDb gives more casual movie enthusiasts like myself the impression that this movie is far better than it actually is.
3) I spent $18 on this. Maybe if it'd cost me $5 or even $10 I'd probably be a bit less bitter. ;)
C'era una volta il West (1968)
Though it may not be as fun and light hearted as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it is certainly much more artistic. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, I'm not sure. The shots and scenes sometimes seem to linger just a bit too long - the Jason Robard character's introductory scene, for example.
Certainly the best things about the film are the soundtrack and the inevitable showdown at the end. Leone has few equals when it comes to the use of a soundtrack. Likewise, Ennio Morricone is one of the very few composers accomplished enough to have his own rabid fan following.
Claudia Cardinale is simply breathtakingly beautiful. Henry Fonda is delightfully evil. At first I was disappointed that Eastwood wasn't in the lead role as with Leone's first three westerns, but Bronson's coldness fits the Harmonica's single-minded revenge oriented character far better than Eastwood's sly and ever-composed Man With No Name could.
Personally, I think The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly is a better movie, mostly because of the Tuco character adding some much needed levity to such an exhaustingly long film. Once Upon a Time in the West is certainly worth seeing, though, and is still far and away one of the best westerns ever.